The police shot the suspect dead. The officers believed he had a gun and posed an immediate, direct threat which justified deadly force.
How often we learn of these tragedies – deadly police shootings
and we wonder why some other means of “stopping force”
could not have been used.
We know some suspects do pose a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to officers or to others. We understand that in certain circumstances shooting these criminals is necessary.
However, if police had something that could quickly and effectively incapacitate a suspect without killing him, that would eliminate the vast majority of questionable shootings by police. If such a weapon existed, there would be few scenarios in which killing a suspect would be necessary. That individual could be rendered unconscious or immobile, thus resolving the incident.
Above all, we must protect our police officers. That means arming them with a weapon that will stop a suspect immediately. Now, the ammunition most commonly carried by law enforcement officers is a hollow-point configuration or expanding full metal jacket bullet, typically in one of five calibers, including .38/.357, 9mm, .357 SIG, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP. Other calibers are used in some departments.
Also, police presently have the taser as an alternative to a firearm. Tasers often work well, but sometimes, depending on the suspect or the equipment itself, they do not work at all. When a suspect is armed with a deadly weapon and he is approaching officers displaying a clear intent to harm, tasers cannot be trusted.
Contrary to what some in certain quarters believe, in matters of deadly force, police officers are not trained to “shoot to kill.” Police officers are trained to stop violent actions by suspects that could result in death or great bodily harm to officers or innocent bystanders.
According to a report by the Force Science Institute, a research center that examines deadly force encounters, most officers are trained to shoot at a target’s center mass, where there is a higher concentration of vital areas and major blood vessels. We know from data collected over decades of post-mortem examinations of suspects who have been shot, and from medical examinations of suspects who have been shot and lived, that the greatest chance of stopping a violent suspect is by shooting into the area of the body containing vital organs. This area is commonly referred to as the torso.
The legal justification for deadly force by police is informed by the 1985 Supreme Court ruling in Tennessee v. Garner. Peter Jirasek, a retired police sergeant and criminal justice educator from Illinois, explained that the concept of shooting to wound would not hold up under Tennessee v. Garner.
“If you only seek to wound someone by shooting, you do not have justification to shoot at all,” Jirasek said. “An attempt to shoot to wound all too often can end up in death. It does no good if a police officer says, ‘I was just trying to wound and ended up killing somebody,’ because that officer now faces criminal prosecution, not to mention a civil lawsuit. And the law will say the officer better be justified in using deadly force.”
(Sabrina Siddiqui. “Why Do Cops So Often Shoot To Kill?” The Huffington Post.
August 20, 2014.)
And, how about the use of bean bags – sock shaped pouches filled with lead, silicone, or rubber balls fired from a shotgun? The Marshall Project on criminal justice reports that unless a shotgun containing bean bags is adequately marked in a different color (usually orange), it can easily be confused with a shotgun loaded with real shells, which police call "cross-contamination" and has repeatedly caused deaths, according to the National Institute of Justice.
“Even if the correct gun is used, there is a risk of serious or deadly injury if the bean bag is fired at the head — and it’s difficult to avoid hitting the head, face, throat, or center of the chest "when a person is twisting or running around," says the report.
(“Alternatives to Bullets.” The Marshall Project. September 23, 2015.)However …
How long has the firearm been the primary weapon used by police in deadly situations to effectively incapacitate a suspect? Actually the firearm was invented in China during the 13th century A.D., and the weapon has been used since then. Throughout the 1800’s all sorts of revolvers saw service in the hands of marshals, sheriffs, and constables across the country. We could consider the gun archiac.
In 2015, the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing recommended "the development of new 'less than lethal' technology to help control combative suspects." This represented a challenge to American scientists and inventors to develop “the next step” in weaponry to replace deadly force, leaving the decision to whether criminals should live or die as the sole responsibility of judges and juries.
The revolutionary new weapon might use electricity, drugs, chemical inhalants, extreme sounds, or blunt force. Or, it could be a weapon already in existence that employs a different, less-lethal payload.
(Adam Lankford. “Analysis: Police use of deadly force could be solved by technology.
CNN. July 12, 2016.)
For example, the U.S. Navy has funded research on a nonlethal weapon that uses radio frequencies to "interrupt the normal process of human hearing and equilibrium" to cause instant and extreme motion sickness.
And, Alternative Ballistics, a California based weapons-tech company, has designed a golf-ball-sized metal alloy that travels at approximately one-fifth the speed of a bullet. Its creators suggest it feels like someone hitting you in the chest with a hammer.
Alternative Ballistics says this technology represents a critical “missing link” between lethal force and less-lethal force. By utilizing our bullet capture technology in appropriate situations, police are likely to prevent loss of life in a way that was – until now – not possible.
Some time ago, the National Institute of Justice commissioned a laser which produces a “plasma flash bang” at the point of impact, stunning and disorienting the victim. This is similar to the Pulsed Energy Projectile (PEP) system developed for the US marines. The military system uses a chemical laser and weighs around 200 kilograms. The NIJ has commissioned Sterling Photonics of Albuquerque, New Mexico, to produce a “technology platform” for a police version that will be electrically powered and portable.
(David Hambling. “Police toy with ‘less lethal’ weapons.” New Scientist. May 02, 2005.)
The California Commission on Police Officer Standards and Training reports, “There are several positive attributes that support adopting the Thunder Five for law enforcement. The Thunder Five is a handgun which is capable of being holstered on the support hand side of the utility belt of the law enforcement officer. This translates into a portable less-lethal delivery system that is immediately available to the officer. Since the Thunder Five is a five-shot revolver, it allows the officer the ability to deploy multiple less-lethal projectiles without reloading.”
(Jose Morales, Lieutenant Fresno Police Department, et al. “Portable, Less Lethal Alternatives for Policing. California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training. May 2000.)
“Smart” bullets are even being developed. SmartRounds™ has developed “smart bullets” – a new class of smart projectiles that will give military, law enforcement, corrections, security firms, and private citizens a choice. The company claims these smart projectiles are safe and effective and use MEMS micro-electro-mechanical technology and a custom CMOS image sensor to activate the projectiles before they reach the target.
The rounds are18mm non-impact, non-lethal smart bullets. These micro-controlled patent pending smart bullets will initially be available in two versions. A ShockRound and a PepperRound. Each one is equipped with two solid state micro-sensors that turn ON the round when fired, and activate the round millisecs before impact.
These projectiles are designed to be fired from a standard 12 gauge shotgun at 450 feet per second and have a range of 100 yards. Both are lightweight, carbon fiber projectiles that produce a low-recoil which allows them to be fired from various 12 gauge shotgun formats. The ShockRound produces a flash-bang and nitrogen gas shock wave that disables the assailant. The PepperRound produces a flash-bang and a capsaicin cloud that causes a burning sensation to the eyes and throat rendering the assailant unable to continue.
(smartrounds.com. June 15, 2016.)
Consider not only how many lives may be saved with a new weapon, but also how much savings a new weapon could provide for taxpayers by reducing improper police shootings. In the past, millions have been spent – “$3 million for the Amadou Diallo case, $4.7 million for Ricardo Diaz Zeferino, $5.9 million for Eric Garner, and $6.4 million for Freddie Gray. These are only a few of the many examples, and there is no clear limit in sight. Recent wrongful death lawsuits have been filed for as much as $75 million.”
(Adam Lankford. “Analysis: Police use of deadly force could be solved by technology.
CNN. July 12, 2016.)
This weapon could also the suicide-by-cop incidents in which people provoke the police to kill them. These unfortunate events can traumatize both the officers and the community members who witness them.
In addition, mass shooters – some inspired by ISIS and other radical Islamist ideologies – may count on being killed by their enemies, which they believe will make them "martyrs." A non-lethal weapon may even stop such attempts at terrorism.
Does the new weapon sound unreasonable? We could doubt such a device could be developed and discourage discovery and invention. Officers, themselves, may even reject the proposal altogether. Yet, now deadly shooting incidents cause the loss of police lives, careers, and lifetimes of regret. Tragedies and mistakes could be avoided with a new non-lethal means of stopping power.
Isn't this the quintessential reason for policing – saving lives and bringing lawbreakers to justice? It is time to call upon science and technology to develop a primary means of stopping aggressive, potentially deadly attacks without killing the suspects. It is imperative to follow the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing and make such a weapon a reality. We have reached the point of distrust in deadly firearms. We need action now.